But according to a new study published in Journal of the American Medical Association, red meat may also play a significant role in the onset of diabetes.
Researchers followed a group of almost 150,000 men and women for 12-16 years, who ate red meat daily, averaging from half a serving to two servings each day (a serving being equivalent to one 3 ounce burger or two bacon slices). At the end of the study, there were 7,540 new cases of Type 2 diabetes, significantly outside the statistical norm, even when lifestyle factors like the rest of the diet, activity level, body weight, and smoking were factored in. The two groups were compared against a group which did not change the amount of red meat they ate. We should note that this is the first study to examine changing levels of red meat consumption over time, because we tend to eat very differently as we age (what was your diet like 16 years ago?).
The study’s authors discovered that increasing red meat consumption by more than half a serving a day – just 1.5 ounces more – was linked with a 48% higher risk of diabetes. But they also found that reducing red meat consumption by the same amount was linked with a 14% lower risk of diabetes. The findings included every kind of red meat, from bologna to steak, but there seemed to be a stronger link with the processed types: deli meats, hot dogs, bacon, sausage, etc.
The study’s senior author Frank Hu, a professor of nutrition and epidemiology at the Harvard School of Public Health, says that the presence of sodium and nitrites (added as preservatives) in processed meats and a specific kind of iron in red meat may be the real villains. The authors also note that the accompanying saturated fatty acids in red meat which lead to weight gain may also play a role.
Bottom line is, a healthy diet to avoid diabetes and many other diseases is one that includes lean sources of protein – nuts, whole grains, and low-fat dairy products. Not that you need to eliminate red meat entirely from your diet – in fact, it can be quite healthful when consumed in small amounts. But focus on lean cuts of steak and limit your consumption of processed meats. Grill those steaks, but do it on special occasions only, not every day.